Not one to apply layers of personal mystification to his music, the Cambridge musician C Joynes is telling the crowd at Club Uncut about his phlegm issues. Personable enough, he’s also a terrific guitarist, albeit one who it’d be more or less impossible to write about without mentioning John Fahey (which I did last time, writing about his, ahem, “Revenants, Prodigies And The Restless Dead”).
Joynes makes for an ideal start to a fine and adventurous show: he has an exploratory jauntiness which locates the spirit as much as the spirituality in the Takoma school’s music, similar to the way Jack Rose handled tradition.
He’s followed by Alexander Tucker, whose customary habit of building a melodic thicket of sound out of various loops and delays has become ever more artful in the couple of years since I last saw him. As usual, Tucker begins tentatively, picking out a doomy blues progression on his guitar. Soon, though, he’s picked up a cello and is layering sombre drones into the mix, as well as his high, keening vocals. At one point, there’s a high, screeching firestorm which reminds me of Tony Conrad, maybe, then a curious and brilliant passage where Tucker appears to be playing heavy metal on some kind of electric mandolin.
This goes on, alternately dense and stark, for about 30 compelling minutes, as Tucker concentrates more and more on his cello. I’m not sure how much of his performances are improvised, and how much composed, but it’s as impressive as ever.
As is Sir Richard Bishop, who mixes wry entreaties to be put on Uncut’s cover (“When you run out of rock’n’roll icons”) with some mindblowing solo electric guitar jams. A few years ago, I interviewed Richard Thompson in a Santa Monica guitar shop, and watched as he picked up various instruments and nonchalantly played amazingly complicated things on them, in a way which seemed absent-minded, if anything.
Bishops’s playing is nothing like that of Thompson: among other names in my notebook, I can identify Sandy Bull, Django Rheinhardt, Dick Dale, Omar Khorshid. But what reminds me of Thompson is a similar effortless virtuosity. His skill at blending multiple global influences into a holistic style is pretty amazing, marking him out as a kind of gnostic explorer.
He also has a fairly wicked sense of humour, essaying a few cranky vocal pieces – at least one, a jokey incest memoir, explicitly credited to the late Charles Gocher – that may well have been salvaged from the infinite back catalogue of the Sun City Girls.
The highlights, though, come on those instrumental pieces: North African-rooted pieces from “The Freak Of Araby”; Hot Club-like flurries from “Polytheistic Fragments”; expansive psychedelic studies, delivered with a ringing clarity of tone; beautiful lyrical tunes, studded with unexpectedly bluesy controlled explosions (a hint of his forthcoming Rangda project with Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano, maybe) that eventually resolve themselves into, I think, the Beatles’ “She Loves You”.
He also accedes to a request for “Black Eyed Blue”, then determinedly claims it’s a Black-Eyed Peas cover. There’s also a loop of some chanting that he deploys a couple of times between tracks, in lieu of his occasional whistling breaks. “In case you didn’t get the message the first time,” he says, “I think they’ve just purified all your ritual objects.”